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Mainly to reassure my many readers (hi dad) that I am still an active, relevant music journo, here is an article I wrote recently that was originally published in Trinity Bull.  I promise more of those sweet, waffly posts about music I like full of questionable use of words like “crepuscular” and “ethereal” are coming soon.  For now, here’s the article:

“I changed the music industry for better and for always”, is the claim made by Napster-founder Sean Parker (as played by Justin Timberlake) in 2010’s The Social Network. While Napster revolutionised the music business as a whole back in 1999, many would question whether it was really “for better”. We continue to hear claims that the music industry is dead; that illegal downloading and piracy are destroying the livelihood of artists, and that the era of CDs and records is behind us.

It’s an ongoing debate, but as the tussle between modern technology and the music industry continues, one has to question why it has persisted for so long. After all, every business has endured unprecedented challenges with the growth of the Internet, and we stand in an era where we expect information to come to us for free. If that is the case, should it accordingly be the same for the arts?

Music as a commodity is hard to quantify by a monetary value in itself. When we buy physical albums and singles, it is ultimately the actual object we are paying for, not the music, and while audiophiles still buy physical records, it is perhaps a medium in decline. If you can buy an MP3 on iTunes for 99c, then artists can’t be making much from their actual music. Digital royalties are practically negligible – a 2010 survey in America estimated that artists got about nine cents from a ninety-nine cent track on iTunes. For small-scale artists, the purported prime losers from piracy, the music industry is a dubious champion.

Streaming is held up as a lesser evil than illegal downloading. Yet ostensibly-noble services such as Spotify are, ultimately, about as useful to artists as iTunes or just all-out piracy, monetarily speaking; perhaps less-so, given that in 2011 it was estimated that it would take 200 streams for an artist to equal the royalties from one iTunes download. Taylor Swift’s controversial recent decision to withhold her latest album, 1979, from Spotify was seen by some as a greedy move, but this is rather cynical. Instead, it serves to highlight how much we take our ability to hear music for free as a right.

It is hardly as though the doomsday predictions of the death of the music industry have transpired, however. Free MP3s have been available for years now on an increasing scale, but people still stump up cash. The charts, though full of often quite questionable music, still exist, and there is still hotly fought competition. One has only to look at the enviable sales of Adele’s Twenty-One or, more recently, Royal Blood’s self-titled debut, for it to become apparent that people are still buying music on a big scale.

Even artists lacking Adele-style record sales are making a living. The reason for this is that the majority of musicians don’t make their cash from music at all now, but from touring and selling their own merchandise. It is telling that in spite of Twenty-One being the biggest-selling album of 2011, Adele was only ranked as the tenth highest earning artist of that year, having had to cancel tour dates due to throat surgery. If you really want to support an artist, then spending 99c on a track makes barely a dent, as compared to seeing them live or buying a t-shirt. Doing something different and a bit more personal is a way for artists to make ends meet too, with Lucy Rose selling her own-brand tea, while Dublin’s own Princess have been selling T-singles – limited edition t-shirts with a download code for their latest track.

A piece was published in the New York Times recently describing the increasingly corporate nature of the music industry with stages at festivals sponsored by the likes of Samsung Galaxy and Honda. More recently still, underground darling FKA twigs became the unlikely face of Google Glass. There was a time when this all might have been considered “selling-out”, but artists need to earn somehow, and for all of Taylor Swift’s earnest romanticism about not entrusting her life’s work to Spotify, for most artists earning from their music alone is a naively optimistic sentiment in this day and age.

Perhaps all this means that, in the future, artists will increasingly opt for the approach taken by Radiohead for In Rainbows, asking fans to pay whatever they deem fit for the digital album. Music’s value, as with all art, is entirely subjective; as such, perhaps it would be best to let the consumers reward their favourite music accordingly. Yes, some would pay nothing. But if someone is interested primarily in trying before buying anyway, then they are surely just as likely to illegally download the music. Radiohead didn’t make a loss with In Rainbows, but then again they are very much an established band. Girl Talk admitted that thousands of people downloaded Feed the Animals for free back in 2008 under the same, pay-what-you-want scheme; however, he did ultimately profit from the venture, and has continued to sell his albums in this way.

With the future of the music industry still in flux, it seems foolish to focus so heavily on record sales alone, and the majority of new artists will have to move away from that old model. For now, shows, merchandise and, ultimately, some kind of corporate sponsorship, are the most lucrative revenue-generators for artists. But perhaps something unprecedented like Napster might yet come in and shake things up once more. That Cheryl is the first British woman to have five number 1 singles is perhaps a sign of the bell-tolling on the music industry – but we must try to remain optimistic.

wonderfulgood

“Out there, at strange hours of the day and night,
are strange young men, pawing at strange instruments
and even stranger pieces of equipment, and now you
can hear what they’ve been up to.”

Swet Drems is an electronic compilation from the intriguing Dublin-based music and art collective Wonderfulgood.   When it first emerged on the internet in June of this year it seemed very fitting that the sun was shining because the music on Swet Drems often glitters like beams of light bouncing off a chlorine-blue swimming pool.  This is an alluring collection of songs from an array of sublimely talented Dublin producers, each with their own distinct styles which somehow merge pleasantly and warmly into cohesion (and I think “warm” is a very fitting word for describing the vibe from the compilation as a whole).  And so now the sun is out once more, even though this is months after its release, it is time to consider this track-by-track (because that seems the best way to deal with a compilation).

Opening with the rippling sunshine prettiness of Enda’s ‘Lost iPod’ it drifts seamlessly into the gorgeously immersive swathes of Flann’s ‘This Is The Sound Of’ (that seems at times to recall UK garage with its airy, shuffling beats).  There’s the squelchy strangeness of DJ Embarrassing Dad’s short but very sweet ‘Sleeping in the Bag’ followed by the aggressive, seductive intensity of Ickis Mirolo’s fascinating ‘Laughing Crow’.

Guns’N’Roses somewhat unexpectedly get a nod in DRUGSCHOOL64’s ‘November Rain’, an amusing, surreal but kind of excellent electronic medley of the band which sounds a bit like a sophisticated number from the Mariokart soundtrack featuring one beautiful moment of steel drums (which are always, always the right instrument for any occasion).  Zayfontaine’s ‘Got To Have Your Loving’ is deliciously funky, Hot Cops’ ‘Pool Scene’ boasts some seedy saxophone and crepuscular sounds, while the second track from Flann, ‘Russian Number Station’, is pleasantly dusky with a kind of Gameboy soundtrack type of breakdown.

There’s some sampling of Modjo’s ‘Lady’ on another track from DJ Embarrassing Dad which – perhaps because I know the original so well – seems a bit too choppy but it’s got some nicely ornate percussion at the end.  Those familiar with Dublin’s music scene might well already know audiovisual pair CLU, and their track ‘Templar’ here is strange and beautiful, and is certainly a stand-out moment with its tranquil, intricate, slowly syncopated sounds.  Rosbeg’s ‘E-mu’ is oddly engaging with its slow, swirling mazes of synth and final track ‘Neiva’ by Dendito has a sparsely urban feel, slowly melting into softer, warmer territories with smooth beats rippling through like a heartbeat.

As a showcase of the electronic production coming out of Wonderfulgood – particularly alongside the enigmatic accompanying artwork for each track by artist Liam Morrow – it is certainly as strange as it promised to be; and that’s kind of it’s charm.  Swet Drems offers weird, otherworldly sounds from a variety of Dublin artists and while it’s probably not going to change your life, there’s something oddly nourishing about listening to it.  It would seem (and I am only slightly apologetic for ending this way) that Swet Drems are made of this:

loylecarner
Earlier this summer I had the pleasure of discovering Loyle Carner (a name perhaps most familiar from his appearance on Rejjie Snow’s ‘1992’). I pretty much became immediately enamoured with the artist after catching him live in London back in July, taken in by his affable, laid-back flow and the great music from Rebel Kleff. This afternoon saw Loyle Carner’s new EP drop and – much in the same easy way that he seemed to win over that crowd back in July – ‘A Little Late’ seems effortlessly special.

“Everybody says I’m fucking sad / of course I’m fucking sad, I miss my fucking dad”, is his melancholy, conversational refrain at the end of lullaby opening track ‘BFG’, and there’s something so perfectly understated about his delivery: not angry, necessarily, but rather he is slowly, reluctantly dejected and accepting, with emotion seeping subtly through the restraint and bravado.  Then there’s the gently romantic ebb and flow of ‘October’ with sweet vocal interludes from Kiko Bun (“yes, I’ve got you on my mind, girl”) and a gorgeously fluid guitar melody all topped with Carner’s smooth, deftly-observed bars, “I think I said too much / From love to lust in a heartbeat / The riddle combusts”.  

‘Pieces’ is slickly produced with some sultry saxophone weaving through the polished beats – in fact, the entire EP boasts the stellar production of aforementioned Rebel Kleff, with a distinct style that certainly nods to J Dilla.  Kleff also features as a rapper on ‘The Money’ which has a euphoric swing with its zig-zagging organ and exasperated but kind of amusing refrain of: “damn, I need to make some money for my fam”, which descends into a nicely candid little a capella moment at the end.

The EP finishes with two older tracks – the glimmering, lithe, summery ‘Sea Shells’ and, finally, the languid reflections of woozy ‘Cantona’ which – if memory serves correctly from that July gig – is also about his relationship with his father.  Again, it’s so beautifully understated but incredibly evocative in its lyricism and delivery: “We’d sit for hours: sun, thunderstorm or showers / In that same living room, watching the bloom turn to flowers”.  There’s a sense of monotony in the way he repeats that particular memory in his chorus between the suffocating rush of the stream-of-consciousness verses, forcefully boxing the listener into that living room until his decision to leave – “I dream of sneaking through into freedom” – makes sense.  But when he ultimately returns to the chorus, there’s a palpable tinge of lament and nostalgia now he looks back.  Needless to say, this is powerful music (…which I am almost certainly lyrically analysing far more than is necessary).

I have not written on here in over a month, but today Loyle Carner reminded me why I love gushing about music so much in the first place.  ‘A Little Late’ is a beautifully serene and articulate EP and this guy is very, very exciting.  Listen:

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My blog looks like it is on the verge of dying, so I thought I would cheekily post up some reviews of new tracks I originally wrote for the wonderful tn2 Magazine on here to keep things fresh.  I will get back to gushing sycophancy about bands I love soon:

Jamie T – Don’t You Find

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The name Jamie T is one that conjures up the cheeky-chappy minstrel behind the likes of the glorious, jangling sounds of previous singles, Sheila and Stick & Stones. Which is why this new track — his first solo release since 2010 — is something of a surprise. With a perfectly languid, almost reggae-style daydream beat, and beautifully, uncharacteristically gentle vocals singing the simple, melancholy refrain of “Don’t you find, some of the time / there is always someone on your mind / that shouldn’t be there at all”, it’s kind of brilliant. It all feels somewhat restrained compared to the brash nature of his previous releases, but it’s in a way that really works; as though, in holding back, Jamie T is able to get a bit more introspective in his observations. Put short: this is gorgeous.

Jeremih & Shlohmo ft. Chance The Rapper – The End

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Last year, with the release of Bo Peep (Do U Right), smooth as caramel Chicago R&B singer Jeremih and exquisite LA producer Shlohmo proved that their sounds married were a match made in heaven. Fast forward to 2014 and, after some scheduling difficulties with their record labels, a few days ago the pair decided to put out their long-awaited collaboration, the No More EP, for free (in celebration of Jeremih’s birthday). The EP overall is arguably not as sublime as it had the potential to be, but it’s certainly enjoyable, with this track featuring hip-hop’s rising star Chance perhaps being the stand-out.  With the kind of understated, urban beats that the fantastic Shlomho serves up best, and some enticingly sultry, melodic rapping from Jeremih, The End gets tastier and more intriguing with every listen.  It gets increasingly gritty too, with Chance’s somewhat in-your-face verse tailing in at the finish, but it makes for a fairly satisfying coda. The song is good and fresh, just – with the talents involved – it’s not as mind-blowing as you might have hoped. Free download available here.

Azealia Banks, Heavy Metal And Reflective

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You would be forgiven for feeling surprised at a new song from Azealia Banks, given that the years since her 2011 breakthrough 212 have been filled with little in the way of releases, yet much in the way of starting dubious, petulant Twitter beefs with a striking number of artists.  Banks’ brash personality aside, though, there is no denying that this track is promising, and it marks what is seemingly a new era now that the artist has broken free of her record deal at Interscope. There is something excitingly feral about Heavy Metal And Reflective, with Banks’ characteristic fast-paced, nonchalant flow over snarling, thumping urban beats which owe a lot to trap. It is not by any means a masterpiece — a comeback hype track, but arguably not a song with real longevity — but it is a pleasant enough reminder as to why we were all so excited about the controversial Harlem girl in the first place.

Karen O, Rapt

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A short, wonderfully sweet insight into Karen O’s forthcoming solo album Crush Songs, Rapt showcases the intimate, raw side of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ singer. Written back in 2006 in the midst of an all-consuming heartbreak which left the singer feeling as though she would never fall in love again, the track is stunningly tender and brilliantly caustic all at once. Gentle laments like the refrain of “Love is soft / love’s a fucking bitch” hint perfectly at that absorbing inner-turmoil of falling out of love, along with moments of wryly observed questioning and self-delusion: “Do I really need another habit like you? / …do you need me too?”. A lo-fi number with a dreamy, bedroom fuzziness, Rapt gets the perfect balance of sad and beautiful.

Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj, Bang Bang

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A song featuring three of pop’s biggest current names, produced by the same team as Ariana Grande’s summer smash Problem, and which samples Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go was always going to have a lot of pulling power. And indeed, there’s a brazen euphoria to the song, with a sugary, upbeat anthem of a chorus — though at times it feels like there is a little too much going on, and the whole thing is perhaps a bit overproduced and abrasive. The lyrics are bold and flirtatious (if somewhat questionable), with moments like, “She got a booty like a Cadillac / But I can send you into overdrive”. With that said, lyrical analysis and debate are perhaps unnecessary — pop is by nature frivolous and fun, and this is certainly that

“Wait – you’re writing a piece about us? Oh god, please don’t include any of this…what are you even gonna call it? ‘Meltybrains? are dix’?”

The five boys of Meltybrains? are running amok in a small square in Dalston after their first ever show in London (this latter point being a fact which leads to several dry comments about their songs all being “UK exclusives” during the performance).  Rather than their jokey post-gig brawling and bizarre conversations appearing in anyway as damning as band-member Brian seems to fear, though, there is something quite endearing and charming about their tangible enthusiasm that night.  Indeed, much as I am always open to title suggestions that involve edgy misspellings, it would be entirely unfair to label this Dublin band as being “dix”, or anything of the sort – which I think is a particularly noteworthy claim given that the band dress entirely in white for their show, and have a proclivity to wearing “meltymasks”: all things which one might associate with the band in question being a little bit pretentious.

The opposite is the case though: there is a light-hearted, playfulness to it all, and the masks and the white outfits just seem to add to the band’s wonderfully content, easy aura on stage, with pools of green and purple light flourishing over them as though they are splattered canvases while they craft their beautiful, otherworldly soundscapes.  At one point they insist the audience – who are just as delighted and passionately immersed in the music as the band themselves – join them in some choreographed dance moves to a sublime tropical-tinged, dancehall-esque number, moving into the crowd to make sure the attendees get properly involved.  That their lyrics include ridiculously great moments like “Listen to me speak, into this microphone / Meltybrains? is weak, would you like a scone?” is perhaps all that is necessary to prove that taking themselves too seriously is not something this band could ever be accused of.

I am normally somewhat loath to writing live reviews, but – having been meaning to write about this band ever since they were one of DWMD’s picks for the Glastonbury Emerging Talent competition, earlier this year – it was in seeing them perform that it struck me anew just how exciting this band are.  It is certainly one of the best, most engaging small-scale gigs I have been to in the past few years, with something immensely passionate evident in their playing – my friend was particularly taken with the way they all seem to have had their eyes closed and the way they’re all so palpably enjoying what they do.  

With every recorded release too, it becomes increasingly clear just how fresh and strange their music is, with their jittery, fantastically intricate percussion and dazzling electric swirls of synth and violin, all topped with the aforementioned bizarre but entirely fitting vocals.

Meltybrains? are doing something special.  They are undoubtedly weird, but that’s what is particularly captivating about them: no one is doing electronic music quite like this right now.  And so, primarily because I can’t think of a more fitting way to end this, I will conclude that, in fact: Meltybrains? are gr8.

Check them out on the SoundCloud to further understand why I have so much love for this band.  I am currently particularly a fan of Block Rockin’.

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For a lot of people, writing is a form of catharsis.  Putting everything out there in a way that is painful, but ultimately somehow cleansing.  I was going to write a post about Arcade Fire, because this week I am living my 2007 dream of seeing them live (for £2.50: hello), but every now and again I end up introspectively contemplating the purpose and nature of music-writing.  I think it is fair to say that, amongst my friends at least, the main reason to read Don’t Watch Me Dancing is to find something to mock me about – which is pretty fair given that I’m pretentious enough to put my gushing, sycophantic views on music on the internet.  So here, in the spirit of catharsis, is my unedited, undeniably cheesy 2010 review of ‘The Suburbs’ and, for all I am embarrassed reading it now, in fairness it is not really that far removed from how I write four years later (if with significantly less lyrical discussion than is my current norm), and pretty accurately surmises my love of Arcade Fire.  Still cringe-y though:

“It sounds a bit weird maybe, but I’ve always felt a closeness with Arcade Fire – I say ‘always'; I actually got onto them circa the release of second album ‘Neon Bible’, and even then entirely randomly. I bought the album having heard absolutely nothing from the band before; I was ordering another album – I think it may have been the latest Modest Mouse – and the website I was on recommended some random group called Arcade Fire’s then-new album. I took a chance – why, I’m really not sure – and it’s something I’ve been immensely grateful for ever since.

‘Neon Bible’ was an epic; swirling cacophonous noise pouring out of a church organ brought you down to depressing depths, contrasting with the majestic uplifting power of orchestral melodies – you have to understand, I’m a flute player, and finding a band that can make your geeky woodwind instrument seem credible is quite something. And it wasn’t all intricate yet distorted baroque grandeur either, as you’d suddenly find yourself in the stripped-down company of merely acoustic guitars and vocals, a beautiful juxtaposition to the fullness of the sound on other tracks. Truth be told, I barely listened to the Modest Mouse album, such was my newfound rapture with Arcade Fire, this wonderful band who made music unlike anything I’d ever heard.
I eagerly sought out their debut ‘Funeral’ next, and was not disappointed – the woeful charm of the album was undeniable, and I found I loved it just as much as ‘Neon Bible’, if for different reasons – musically at least, it was certainly a less weighty affair than their second album. The band have described their musical aspiration as wanting to bring medieval music to the Pixies, and crazy as that might seem if you’re trying to imagine what that might sound like, that really does just sum them up; they have mastered that epic fusion of new and old, and have managed it incredibly.

So, two wonderful – somber now and then, yes, but wonderful nonetheless – albums in, and here we are now with their third offering, ‘The Suburbs'; I’m not going to lie, I thought I would be disappointed, but once again this band who, for me, came out of nowhere, have left me pleasantly surprised. Once again we find ourselves greeted by darkness, but as ever with Arcade Fire, there is a crack of light – perhaps even more so than on either of their previous albums – that diffuses through the album and somehow makes listening to an album about suburban doom and gloom a relatively enjoyable experience. As well as the expected incredible mix of guitar rock and classical music, the album sees forays into weird and wonderful M83-style dazzling synths, as well as creepy and dissonant distortion. Amazing.
Time and more listening will tell if the album will achieve for me the heights of bittersweet beauty, ‘Funeral’, or the abundant allure of ‘Neon Bible’, but having listened to it as a whole a couple times now, it is thus far an amazing follow-up. Even disregarding their previous efforts this album is something to be proud of, a fantastic listen in it’s own right. Arcade Fire seem to be one of the few bands out there who know exactly how best to exploit their sound, and it seems that album after album they will continue to achieve something that sounds fresh and new, yet somehow just as sublime as before.”
I suspect finally seeing one of my favourite contemporary bands live will give some affirmation as regards music-writing, anyway.  I am very, very excited, and I guess that enthusiasm is probably about as much purpose as I need for writing all my overblown gushing about music.

sumochief

 

Hip-hop and jazz are genres which, while not necessarily standardly associated with one another, have something of a natural affinity: that similar inclination towards boundless, exciting, uninhibited free-styling and improvisation.  Think of The Roots and their bluesy, soulful off-the-cuff sounds; the sultry vibe of Mark Farina’s Mushroom Jazz compilations; Robert Glasper’s mesmerising musical explorations; or, indeed, the slick, seamless beats and production of J Dilla.

Thus enter Londoners SumoChief, straight out of the spectacular creative hub that is Steez, bringing live instrumentation back to the forefront of the game with their new ‘Sumobeats’ EP, out last week on Lunatick Records.  The sound is fresh and fairly minimalist, with pretty trills of keyboard, chilled, airy beats and sweet, fluid lines of guitar rippling over the top in track ‘1 of 1′.  The sublime ‘Gator Season’ has a somewhat more urban feel, with beautiful piano samples and a perfect dusky feel which just begs to have some verses spit over the top – a sentiment that makes the reworking of the song into ‘It is What It Is’ with guest bars from MadLean a very welcome addition to the end of the EP.  Slam the Poet and Cecil B Demented feature too, on the sweet and breezy ‘Segundo’, while ‘Happy Joy’ is a little odd – if gratifyingly so – with a recording of Alan Watts expounding on music interspersed throughout the pleasantly laid back, immersive melodies.

There’s a nice immediacy and freshness to their use of live instrumentation in hip-hop, and there’s something incredibly telling about the sample in ‘Gator Season’ where the speaker laments, “There’s a whole generation that attends concerts now who has no idea what live music is supposed to be about”. Sumochief could be bringing this new generation of hip-hop fans back to that exquisite rawness that only comes with live music.  It’s not groundbreaking, certainly, but ‘Sumobeats’ is a welcome start: a respectful nod to those in the genre before them, and a looming promise of exciting future collaborations to meld with their crepuscular sounds.

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